Most people know Hanukkah lasts for 8 nights and that one candle is lit for each night on a menorah, or technically, a hanukkiah. Hanukkah means ‘dedication’ and it marks the liberation of the Temple in Jerusalem in the second century BCE when a small band of Jews, the Maccabees, liberated the Jewish people from the Syrian-Greeks who occupied the land forcing Greek culture on the Jews. When the Jews took back control of the Temple they only had oil for one night to rededicate the temple menorah, but it lasted for 8 nights.
Tonight is the 4th night of Hanukkah. Yesterday, while listening to NPR, I heard an inspiring story with Rabbi Ari Saks of the Huntington Jewish Center, New York in conversation with NPR’s Scott Simon. The rabbi brought home the connection between today’s battle against Covid19 and the little victories that help us get through these impossible-seeming times.
He told a story of Auschwitz, the most notorious of the Nazi concentration camps, and a small band of Jews who made their own miracle.
In Auschwitz this commandant of the Nazis thought it would be right to torment the people by saying, “Hey Jews guess what, don’t you know that it is Hanukkah? See we lit candles for you.” And he pointed to the crematoria that were at full blast.
“Oh, we have a Hanukkah gift for you.” And it was an extra loaf of bread and some margarine. And I think the Nazis just thought they were going to fight tooth and nail just to get a little piece of it. But these Jews inside this concentration camp said, “You know what? We’re going to turn this tormenting moment of being ridiculed into the greatest miracle,” which is to take the margarine and the loaf of bread and some other resources that they had available (and I have no idea how they do it), they formed the bread and margarine into candles that they could actually light in the midst of the burning crematoria that they saw by the window. The mitzvah, the commandment of Hanukkah, is to show off the candle to any passer by. You’re supposed to put it in your window so that people passing by can see it and they can be informed of the miracle of Hanukkah. And these Jews in Auschwitz they took the candle and they put it by the window so that the Nazis could see it. These Jews were scoring a victory over death.
“The miracle is not just in the light lasting for 8 nights, but like these Jews, it’s the faith of the people to light it the first night. It takes a lot of guts to be able to light a candle and say this candle is going to burn and represent my hope that there will be a future that I can hold on to that’s going to be better even more so than in the present.”
In the midst of the battle with Covid19 we are able to find some element of victory, find some thing to hold on to to give us hope for the future.
You can find the whole interview here: